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UN wants Europe to share Syria refugees

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UN wants Europe to share Syria refugees
Syrian refugees outside a former army barracks in Brandenburg, October 2013. Photo: DPA
16:08 CET+01:00
New plans from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees would see Syrian refugees relocated from overtaxed southern EU members to the wealthier north, the UN refugee agency told The Local on Thursday.

“It's urgent to come up with a fresh and bold look at what is happening and look at proposals to deal with this situation,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told The Local.

“We need to look at an equitable share of people,” he added, although he would not suggest precise numbers for how Syrian refugees ought to be allocated to different EU states.

Spindler stressed that the proposals were not final and would have to be agreed with individual members' governments and civil society organizations.

They are currently being examined by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Germany's Interior Ministry could not immediately comment on the plans.

Passing the buck

Under existing EU rules, the country where refugees arrive in the Union are responsible for taking care of them and processing asylum applications.

But many in fact slip through official nets and move on to other destinations where they may have relatives, useful language skills or other connections.

“When I see a Syrian arrive in Italy who has relatives in the Netherlands... the choice for policymakers is that he either moves illegally or legally,” UNHCR Europe bureau director Vincent Cochetel told The Guardian on Wednesday.

“That person is going to move”.

Some countries interpret refugee regulations, known as the Dublin law, to mean that only the first country of entry can accept asylum applications, and send those caught without papers back to the place where they first entered the EU.

But Spindler says that that is unncessary and counter-productive – and isn't the only way of interpreting the law.

“States have a sovereignty laws which allows them to look into cases themselves,” Spindler said.

“Let's find a way of applying Dublin in such a way that it doesn't cause this situation.”

Rich countries are top pick

Wealthier EU nations like Germany and Sweden are among the top destinations for refugees from Syria and other conflict areas around the world.

Germany has received almost 60,000 asylum applications from Syrians since 2011 and approved 42,680 of them.

It has also offered 30,00 places on a resettlement scheme – far more than other wealthy countries such as France or the UK.

“Germany has a very generous reception policy,” Spindler said. “Some other countries have not come up with the numbers [of places] that are really relevant.

“We have to show more solidarity within European, and between Europe and other countries receiving most refugees.”

Turkey and Lebanon have borne the brunt of the Syria crisis, taking in 1.53 and 1.34 million refugees respectively.

Jordan, Iraq and Egypt are now also temporarily home to hundreds of thousands of Syrians.

Rosie Scammell contributed reporting.

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